Local circuits in the cerebral cortex consist of tens of thousands of neurons, each of which makes and receives thousands of connections. The biggest impediment to understanding these circuits is that we have no wiring diagrams of these interconnections. But even if we had a wiring diagram, understanding the network would also require information about each neuron’s function. Recently, we have demonstrated that the relationship between structure and function can be studied in the cortex with a combination of optical techniques to study neural function, followed by very large-scale anatomical imaging with electron microscopy (Bock et al., 2011).
I will discuss methods for collecting large-scale data from neural circuits and the computational challenges presented. In particular, the new field of connectomics requires tools for the segmention and visualization multi-terabyte 3D data sets. For the first time, these data contain the information required to reconstruct large-scale networks in the mammalian brain.
Bock, DD, Lee, W-CA, et al. (2011) Network anatomy and in vivo physiology of a group of visual cortical neurons. Nature, 471:177-182. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v471/n7337/full/nature09802.html